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Senator calls to amend bill to rein in surveillance

| Thursday, June 5, 2014, 9:24 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate's intelligence committee said she wants to make changes to a bill passed by the House of Representatives to further narrow the scope of National Security Agency surveillance practices.

The House bill has confusing language regarding what kind of phone and Internet records the NSA would be permitted to gather in bulk, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. That bill says it would allow collection of records that identify “a person, entity, account, address or device.”

“The language used in the bill is somewhat controversial,” Feinstein said on Thursday. “We should take a close look at the House legislation with a view to its passage, perhaps as amended in the Senate.”

The hearing was held on the one-year anniversary of the publication of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposing the range of government surveillance tactics.

Technology and Internet companies including Microsoft and Google have asked the Senate to craft a version of NSA legislation that would narrow what was passed in the House. The companies are largely against the government's bulk gathering of emails and other Internet records.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said during the hearing the government doesn't believe the House bill would permit bulk data collection, such as gathering records from an entire zip code.

“That would be the type of indiscriminate bulk collection that the bill is designed to end,” Cole said.

Federal investigators still need flexibility, he said. He outlined a scenario where if a terrorist stayed at a hotel, investigators may need to access records of other guests in the hotel to determine whether there are connections.

“We need to have enough room to do an investigation that would be effective, and we need to have enough restrictions so that we are not indiscriminately collecting records in bulk,” Cole said.

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